Athlete of the Week- Lyndhurst’s Rizzo gets the job done on the mound, at the plate

Standing at just 5-foot-7 and with a fastball that’s usually in the mid-to-high 70s, Michael Rizzo doesn’t look the part of an ace pitcher. The misconception completely changes though the moment the Lyndhurst senior steps on the mound.

It’s there that Rizzo not only displays the aggressiveness and demeanor of a top level pitcher, the results more than back up his confidence.

“I feel like I do surprise a lot of people when I get on the mound,” said Rizzo. “I’m not the gorgeous guy at six-foot-four, but I feel like I’m a bulldog on the mound and I get the job done every time I’m out there.

“I just go up to every pitch and say to myself, ‘I’m better than you. I’m getting you out, you’re not beating me.’ It’s really all a mindset. I love when people chirp at me. I love when they talk to me and say he throws slow. I hear everything and I love it.”

Recently, it’s been Rizzo who’s been getting the last laugh. The right-hander has allowed just two earned runs over his last three startings, picking up wins over Butler, Hasbrouck Heights and, most recently, North Arlington on May 20.

That combined with a recent hot streak at the plate makes Rizzo The Observer Athlete of the Week.

For the season, Rizzo sports a stellar 2.15 ERA and a 5-2 record for Lyndhurst heading into Wednesday’s North 2, Group 2 quarterfinal matchup at Becton. In 42.1 innings, he’s allowed just 41 hits and 13 walks with 29 strikeouts.

“He’s the ultimate competitor with his intensity and what he brings to the mound,” head coach Pat Auteri said. “He just gets up, he gets the ball, he gets on the mound, he has that look in his eye and he’s going to beat you.”

Auteri views Rizzo as a throwback to an era when pitchers focused more on command and deception rather than pure velocity and radar guns when pitching.

“He doesn’t throw hard, but he can throw three pitches for a strike and he can put the ball where he wants it,” said Auteri. “Everybody wants to see the radar gun, but I think if you can consistently change speeds, keep guys off balanced and hit your spots, you’re going to be an effective pitcher on any level.”

Rizzo, who is also a three-year starter at third base for the Golden Bears, rarely pitched prior to high school. It was as a freshman and with a shortage of arms on the team that he got his first extended time on the mound.

“Growing up, I really didn’t pitch much in little league or with travel all-stars. I I really didn’t pitch much growing up until my freshman year when I really just had to throw because we didn’t really have many other people. On the freshman team, I was our number two guy behind (Anthony) Pizzuti and sophomore year, I got thrown into the fire and I feel like I stepped up and realized that I could compete with all these guys on the varsity level.”

In three years, Rizzo has 15 varsity wins and a 2.19 ERA over 153.1 varsity innings.

At the plate, Rizzo is a career .363 hitters, racking up 85 hits, 72 RBI and 47 runs. This year, hitting primarily out of the three spot in the lineup, he is having arguably the best of his career, thanks to improved plate discipline. After drawing just nine walks as a junior, Rizzo has 23 this season, giving him an on-base percentage over .500 to go with a .380 average, 20 runs and 20 RBI.

Rizzo, who has a 4.3 GPA, plans to attend Notre Dame and study finance in the fall, so he knows that this will be his last season of baseball. As he approaches the final days of his playing career, he reminds himself of the words his father, also named Michael, said about this group.

“He’s told me since our freshman year, he’s told this group ‘you guys are going to win the section your senior year. You guys have the talent , you guys are going to do it,’” the young Rizzo said. “To have this opportunity in front of us, it is really surreal. I’m just doing all I can to continue to win these games.”

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)